Alternative provision in England is in “desperate need of reform” amid “systemic issues” that lead to “inconsistent outcomes” for young people, two watchdogs have said in a critical report today.
Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission said absence of national standards and a lack of clarity on responsibilities for AP commissioning and oversight is leading to “inconsistent and ineffective practice”.
They found this is often exacerbated by “underdeveloped strategic planning, an insufficiently clear purpose of AP and a lack of monitoring of children’s outcomes”.
The report, published today, looks at how education, health and care partners commission and oversee AP, making recommendations for improvement.
Schools or local authorities commission AP for pupils who have been excluded or cannot attend mainstream school.
The report was based on Ofsted and CQC visits to six local authority areas, and more than 700 survey responses from those within the AP system. The primary purpose of AP in the areas it visited was to prevent children from being permanently excluded. It also functions to help young people reintegrate into education.
But the report found key agencies often fail to “strategically collaborate” and decisions on moving young people in AP into post-16 education were “often delayed” and there was “a lack of a clear exit plan or family involvement”.
The report notes there was “little joint working between health, education and care professionals” to support children’s access and progression to post-16 education and “the overall picture is of a system in desperate need of reform”.
It said “inconsistent and often ineffective” commissioning and strategic planning meant support for children planning the next step into post-16 was “highly variable”.
Support for young people after they’d entered post-16 provision was “not consistent”.
“One parent described this as ‘a sense of a cliff edge’. Sometimes, it felt abrupt when support from professionals who had been working with children and young people stopped. Some young people were unable to sustain their placement,” the report said.
However, it also flagged instances of good practice of children successfully reintegrating into mainstream education and post-16 destinations, such as FE institutions hosting open days and career weeks.
“Many providers were supporting children to plan for their next steps,” the report said. “They were developing strong working relationships with further education institutions and organising visits to college open days. Children could familiarise themselves with the courses on offer, class sizes and behavioural expectations. This helped them make informed choices.”
The report also noted that secondary-aged children needed more careers guidance and often remained in AP until the end of Year 11 “without clear plans for the most suitable post-16 pathway and provider, or for how to achieve their goals.”
Ofsted ‘concerned’ over standards
Ofsted said a mix of registered and unregistered settings means the “quality of oversight for children in AP is highly variable”.
The report also found “limited specialist provision led to children being placed inappropriately in provision that was not resourced to meet their needs.. often for long periods of time”.
Sir Martyn Oliver, Ofsted’s chief Inspector, said: “We are concerned that some children’s education and care falls below the standard they deserve.
“We need more clarity about how AP can be used effectively so that children have consistently positive experiences.
“We also remain concerned about the widespread problems with unregistered AP – after 12 years of calling for the mandatory registration for all AP, it is clear that the need for reform is more urgent than ever”.